Wednesday, March 02, 2011

WNW: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

How fun that Dr. Seuss's birthday lands on a Wednesday this year. Let's celebrate, Word Nerd style! (Fun word nerd bit at the end, I promise.)

(If it's all the same to you, I think I may celebrate with chocolate rather than green eggs and ham . . .)

When I think of Dr. Seuss, the former child in me remembers "Gertrude McFuzz," "Yertle the Turtle," and "The Big Brag." We had a collection with those three stories in it when I was a kid, and I loved, loved, loved it. To this day, Gertrude is one of my favorite Seuss characters. (I've since bought a new copy of that collection for my kids. Of course.)

The mother in me thinks of a few other things, like how stinkin' LONG some of his books are, and how your child will inevitably insist on hearing The Cat in the Hat Comes Back when you're exhausted and would prefer something nice and short, like a Sandra Boynton book.

(Note: The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, when read aloud, fast, takes a solid 9 minutes. Yes, I timed it. On several occasions. Trying to beat my record and get a child to bed. And as friends can attest, I can talk really fast.)

But the mother in me also appreciates how much he's done for childhood literacy. I cannot even guess at how many millions of children he's touched with his stories. How many have laughed at his pictures and puns? How many decided they liked books after hearing a teacher read one of his? (And that's not counting his cultural impact with the Grinch and so many other things.)

Because I'm a word nerd, English major, and writer, I probably also think of few different things that the average (read: normal) person doesn't when I hear the name of Dr. Seuss.

One is the sheer brilliance of his meter, rhythm, and rhyme. His work is best read aloud, and if you do it right, which isn't hard, the stories almost sound like songs.

This is one reason I hate the board book of Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? For the sake of space (a must for a board book), it cuts out huge portions of the text. That also cuts out all personality and rhythm, leaving a torn, bleeding mass in place of the original. It's choppy, jumpy, and all around obnoxious to read.

The writer in me thinks about how so many people dismiss Dr. Seuss's work as simplistic, or think they can copy his style and sell their own rhyming books for children. They have no idea how complex his poetry is and how hard it is to produce. That is, they don't know until they get a bunch of rejection letters.

And of course, my inner word nerd loves how he played with words and totally made up random ones that sound real and fun (much like Lewis Carroll and "The Jabberwocky").

Some of my favorite Seuss word inventions include sneech, fiffer-feffer-feff, lorax, zax, and wocket. A bigger (although incomplete) list is here.

One word on that list jumped out at me, and my initial reaction was to think it was a mistake: nerd.

But a little digging shows that both Merriam-Webster and the OED agree: If I Ran the Zoo, by Dr. Seuss, is the first time the word nerd showed up in print. He may well have invented the term.

And that gives me a new reason to rejoice in being a word nerd.

Happy birthday, Theodor Geisel.


Stephanie Black said...

Dr. Seuss is awesome! Happy birthday!

Gina said...

He coined the term "nerd"? How cool is that?!?!

Maggie said...

My school age daughter always reminds me of this MAJOR holiday every year.

Melanie Jacobson said...

That's some seriously cool trivia.

TisforTonya said...

I'm a complete Seuss nerd... I wore my Thing 1 and Thing 2 shoes, one fish two fish socks, shirt and buttons... and made green eggs with ham sandwiches for lunch. I usually fit right in at the schools... too bad today was a museum board meeting and I was the most colorful thing in the austere building!!!

amberargyle said...

Kids books that adults love as much as the kids--that's what Dr Suess gave us.

Scott said...

I remember in...first? second grad? popular "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" was. We would race to the book shelf to snatch it up. We would even behave all week just to be able to have first pick at the books during reading time...all for that one book!
I agree: his writing was much more than simple children's books! I only understand now, that I write more, how intelligent and artful his writing is (his and Shel Silverstein). Good post! Love WNW!

Erin said...

I love how Seuss word inventions are now practically commonplace in kids' vernacular.

(Did I use that word right? I'm too lazy to look it up.)

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that about "nerd." I just fell more in love with Dr. Seuss than ever!

It's so true about how complicated his poetry is. I was reading up on his methods and the extents he went to perfect the pentameter? Holy WOW!

Helena said...

There's a board book version of Dr. Seuss's ABC, too. It's awful. (Incidentally, did you know the ABC book can be sung to the ABC song?)

I just did a blog post about how often he draws characters with their eyes closed. Like Mr. Brown, for instance, never opens his eyes for the entire book. Odd, that.


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